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Saturday, September 20, 2014

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Montreal community condemns IOC’s refusal of minute of silence

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As Federation CJA president David Cape looks on, former Soviet Olympic athlete Yefim Chulak lights 11 memorial candles in honour of the Israeli Olympians slain in 1972.

MONTREAL — Montreal Jews, community leaders, diplomats, politicians and a former Jewish Olympian who was in Munich in 1972 were almost unanimous in condemning the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) refusal to hold a minute of silence in memory of the 11 Israeli coaches and athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Games.

“Give us one minute. One minute to remember what happened… to remember that they were murdered because they represented the state of the Jewish people,” Israeli Consul General Joel Lion said July 26 before 150 people in the atrium of Cummings House on the eve of the London Games.

The families of the victims of the Munich Massacre had mounted a global campaign to get the IOC to hold an official moment of silence at the Games’ opening ceremonies. The IOC rejected the call, despite its endorsement by U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. Senate, the German Bundestag, the Canadian and Australian parliaments, about 50 members of the British Parliament, the Israeli government and Jewish organizations worldwide.

Federation CJA president David Cape, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, and rabbis Reuben Poupko and Chaim Steinmetz also denounced the IOC at the 40-minute event, which was organized by the federation and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

The only speaker who did not criticize the Olympic governing body was British Consul General Patrick Holdich.

While joining the others in recalling the tragic events of 1972 and referring to other ceremonies held in London this year in memory of the slain Israelis, Holdich held back from overtly censuring the IOC.

“Sport is meant to draw people together, with courage, peace and solidarity amongst people and nations,” Holdich said. “I think virtually every country in the world will be represented in London.

“This is a great achievement for the Olympic movement, and I believe it is the sort of vision which those athletes in 1972 would have hoped to see 40 years later, and certainly in London they are not forgotten.”

The ceremony was marked both by solemnity and anger, as two large screens flashed the images and names of the slain Israelis, and speakers expressed the sentiment that the IOC would have held a moment of silence if the dead had hailed from any other country.

Yefim Chulak, the only Jewish member of the medal-winning Soviet volleyball team in 1972, remembered the events in September 1972 as a “nightmare.”

Now 64 and a Montreal resident for the past 15 years, Chulak was in an adjacent building to the Israelis when they were taken hostage.

“It was terrible,” he told The CJN in very halting English. “When I close my eyes, it is like yesterday.”

Chulak had even met with one of the victims, wrestler Mark Slavin, who was also a native of the Soviet Union.

As the ceremony approached its conclusion, Chulak lit 11 memorial candles after organizers held their own minute of silence.

“How could a moment of memory violate the [IOC] charter?” Rabbi Poupko asked the crowd. “The tragedy here is that we have to gather alone.”

Rabbi Steinmetz denounced the IOC for “indifference and cowardice,” while Cape said: “We stand together to do what the [IOC] has failed to do.”

Cotler, who spearheaded a motion in Parliament calling on the IOC to hold a minute of silence, said its refusal was “as offensive as it is incomprehensible.”

He quoted Ankie Spitzer, the widow of one of the slain athletes, André Spitzer, who had urged the public to holds its own moment of silence at the Games’ opening ceremonies.

Cotler said the IOC refused the request for a minute of silence “because [the Munich victims] were Israelis and Jews.”

The event ended with a recitation of the K’el Maleh Rachamim memorial prayer by Cantor Moshe Shore.

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